Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Fiona Citkin, Ph.D. Headshot

American Family Values? Think Immigrant Women Leaders

Posted: Updated:

Unfair Use of a Fair Topic

Before coming to America some 20 years ago, I couldn't understand why some media make such a big deal about "family values." But the Clinton-era events enlightened me enough to comprehend the custom of self-serving conservative allusions to this popular issue. The "family values" discussions bring up something intensely personal in us; family is often the site of our deepest desires and worries--so why not use it?

For many successful conservative talk show hosts--especially Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly--"family values" acquired an anti-immigrant meaning associated with gaining social and political power. They were recently joined by CIS's Dr. Stephen Steinlight, showing his own anti-immigrant colors.

The conservative discourse claims we're caught in native-vs-immigrant "culture wars." But research reveals a very different reality. For instance, a study by Francis Fukuyama, now of Stanford University, exposed the confusion of the conservatives on the family-values issue, including narrow-minded hostility to single mothers, gay-bashing, and fears of a Latino cultural invasion. He clarified: "Evidence suggests that most Latin American immigrants may be a source of strength with regard to family values, and not a liability."

Let's take a closer look at what-and-why of the family values that immigrants bring to America.

Triple Support

We embrace/adhere to family values--and family values embrace/support us: it's a two-way highway. Working on a book made me peruse the conservatives' argument that immigration is causing a disintegration of American family values. My interviews with 50 diverse immigrant women leaders speak loud and clear: they all have a major common denominator--strong family values! It's the family values that help immigrants by providing interweaved triple support, critical for surviving and thriving:

1. Emotional support: comfort from sharing unconditional love and/or similar culture
2. Hands-on support: help from family members
3. Spiritual support: guiding light of inbred life philosophy, interests, and talent.

Here's how it works.

Fair Family Colors

These women leaders embody the family values that immigrants bring to the US as pillars of their contributions to America's well-being and culture. See for yourself:

Isabel Allende, from Chile--Forever Feminist

Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American writer of international acclaim, whose books were translated into 35 languages and sold over 56 million copies. A long-time feminist passionately embracing family values, she became a role model for many: "Inspiring other women, appealing to strong women is my calling."

Isabel immigrated because she fell in love and married a US-American--and her family is her priority. So, take it from Isabel: "Latin Americans are very tribal, with extended families/clans: you are responsible for many.. I missed that, and I tried to put my family together here. This [strong family] made me happy." In our interview, Isabel advised other immigrant women to retain what their native cultures equipped them with--and what's flagging in the US--namely, "profound sense of community and family vs. typical American families often being scattered, kids going to college and coming back only for Thanksgiving, at best."

Although immigration presented "obstacles that could have paralyzed a samurai," Isabel made it twice: in Venezuela and in the United States. Her stamina has been safeguarded by the emotional support of her immediate family and spiritual support of her proud line of ancestry, "three-quarters Spanish-Basque blood, one-quarter French, and a tot of Araucan or Mapuche." Her much-revered grandfather instilled a strict philosophy in her: life is strife and hard work, discomfort is healthy--as is simple food. Another influencer was her father's first cousin Salvador Allende, President of Chile, because of his strict sense of loyalty and passion for fine arts.

Here's to the family values of Latinos!

Lidia Bastianich, from Italy--Chef of the Chefs

Lidia Bastianich is an Italian-American celebrity chef, television host, author, and restaurateur. She has been a cooking star on PBS television culinary shows since 1998, after her TV appearance with then-top celebrity chef Julia Child. Today, Lidia's business includes several Italian restaurants, a winery, a travel company, a packaged food line, and a TV production company--all run by Lidia and her two children. And she still makes lunch for her big family every Saturday and Sunday!

It was her family that helped her to arrive where she is today: she wisely used their triple support: the hands-on plus emotional backing of her mother, husband and children; and the spiritual role-modeling support and high standards of her grandmother and mother (whose authentic recipes she seeks to replicate). With her start-ups, the whole family pitched in: even her mother would come to give a hand with nighttime cleaning, in addition to watching grandchildren by the day.

"I've married my two passions in life: family and food," reprises Lidia--and this is the essence of her life as a true Italian mother, grandmother, businesswoman, and passionate chef-of-the-chefs. Now the epicenter of a big family business, she shares her knowledge worldwide--through television, 11 cookbooks, articles and her restaurants. "It is the greatest reward of my entire life, my top achievement: to have my children choose to come and work with me, in my business," said Lidia.

Does that show immigrant family values, or what?

What the Nation Should Do

Using military language to describe American family values "culture wars" is apparently barking up the wrong tree: instead of ostracizing poor immigrants, unwed mothers, gays/lesbians, and divorcees--for personal political profit--the right-wingers should first look at their own ranks, where anti-family promiscuous behavior abounds. Second, according to moderate evangelical Steven Tracy, it's not even Christian (or fair, as I put it) of them to apply their wrong moral templates, focus on the wrong threats, and "fight" in the wrong manner on this issue.

Moreover, nobody has exclusive rights to "family values." It's in the best interests of our fair--and increasingly diverse--nation to counteract the unfair usage of "family values" as ornaments in self-serving reactionary politics--and do what's right for contributing immigrant families: a comprehensive immigration reform.